Defunct company covered up its use of valuable predictive models drawn from Facebook information, claims report
Cambridge Analytica may have announced its shutdown last week, but the consultancy continues to be liable to provide information requested by US citizens on what how it used their data, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has said.
Meanwhile, a report over the wekend claimed the consultancy did not delete valuable models derived from the Facebook data on up to 87 million people, retaining them until well after the 2016 US presidential election.
The ICO on Friday ordered the defunct firm to release the information it holds on US academic David Carroll, a move that could form a precedent for millions of other Americans whose data Cambridge Analytica allegedly processed.
Carroll, an associate professor at Parsons School of Design in New York, has sued the consultancy in England to obtain details of why information on him was processed and with whom it was shared, amongst other explanations.
The case is due to be heard by the High Court later this year, but in the meantime the ICO has ordered Cambridge Analytica to provide the information requested by Carroll.
Information commissioner Elizabeth Denham said on Saturday that a continued failure to cooperate could result in criminal charges.
“Whether or not the people behind the company decide to fold their operation, a continued refusal to engage with the ICO will potentially breach an enforcement notice and that then becomes a criminal matter,” she said.
Carroll’s lawyer, Ravi Naik, said the shutdown of Cambridge Analytica and its parent company, SCL Elections, could see liability fall on the companies’ executives.
“The company can liquidate, but the evidence can’t,” he told the Financial Times.
Cambridge Analytica consulted for Donald Trump in the 2016 campaign but denies using Facebook data at the time, claiming it was deleted in 2015.
But a report by The Observer on Sunday claims that the firm may instead have made use of predictive models derived from the data, which are often more valuable than the raw data itself.
The report cites an exchange of emails between Cambridge Analytica and Facebook in which the London-based firm confirms having deleted the raw data in January 2016.
But in an apparently legalistic sleight of hand, Cambridge Analytica’s email only mentions “the data we received from Dr Kogan”, the Cambridge academic involved in the incident.
Facebook’s request had more broadly included “any and all data that was derived from the Facebook platform”.
The US company did not receive official certification that all data, including derivatives, had been deleted until April 2017, long after the US campaign had ended, and two former Cambridge Analytica employees told The Observer that the models in question had, in fact, been retained into early 2017.
A former Cambridge Analytica executive told the paper that Facebook was willing to turn a blind eye to the omission because it was making large profits on political advertising during the campaign.
“We were responsible for spending millions of dollars on their platform,” the unnamed individual told the paper.
During testimony before the US House of Representatives last month, Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg responded in the affirmative to a question by representative Jan Schakowsky about whether Cambridge Analytica had deleted the derivatives right away.
“They all represented to us that they had,” he said.
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